(in chronological order according to the year of writing)
[Written – First produced – First published]
[1903 – 1907 – 1912]
FOULDES: I have reached an age when love, ambition and wealth pale into insignificance beside a really well-grilled steak.
LADY MERESTON: She's fifteen years older than he is.
FOULDES: Then she's not old enough to be his mother, which is a distinct advantage.
FOULDES: I've never surrendered so far to middle age as to make habits.
FOULDES: You'd be irresistible, Lady Frederick, if you didn't know you were so clever.
LADY MERESTON: I have no doubt you mistook wounded vanity for a broken heart.
MERESTON: But you break my heart.
LADY FREDERICK: My dear, men have said that to me ever since I was fifteen, but I've never noticed that in consequence they ate their dinner less heartily.
LADY FREDERICK: You weren't really so foolish as to imagine I should marry a boy who set me up on a pedestal and vowed he was unworthy to kiss the hem of my garment?
FOULDES: Why not?
LADY FREDERICK: My dear Paradine, I don't want to commit suicide by sheer boredom. There's only one thing in the world more insufferable than being in love.
FOULDES: And what is that, pray?
LADY FREDERICK: Why, having some one in love with you.
[1904 – 1908 – 1912]
GERALD: [shaking hands] How d'you do? I think you know Mr. Blenkinsop?
LADY SELLENGER: Of course. But I don't approve of him.
BLENKINSOP: Why not?
LADY SELLENGER: Because you're a cynic, a millionaire, and a bachelor. And no man has the right to be all three.
MRS. DOT: I wonder why you never married, James?
BLENKINSOP: Because I have a considerable gift for repartee. I discovered in my early youth that men propose not because they want to marry, but because on certain occasions they are entirely at a loss for topics of conversation.
No sooner had I made it than I began to cultivate my power of small talk. I felt that my only chance was to be ready with appropriate subjects at the shortest notice, and I spent a considerable part of my last year at
in studying the
best masters. Oxford
I never played for brilliancy. I have played for safety. I flatter myself that when prattle was needed I have never been found wanting. I have met the ingenuity of sweet seventeen with a few observations on Free Trade, while the haggard efforts of thirty have struggled in vain against a brief exposition of the higher philosophy. The skittish widow of uncertain age has retired in disorder before a complete acquaintance with the restoration dramatists, and I have routed the serious spinster with religious leanings by my remarkable knowledge of the results of missionary endeavour in
Africa. Once a dowager sought to ask me my intentions, but I flung
at her astonished head an entire article from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
These are only my serious efforts. I need not tell you how often I have evaded
a flash of the eyes by an epigram or ignored a sigh by an apt quotation from
[1910 – 1910 - 1913]
GRACE: Do I shock you?
MISS VERNON: No, because I see you’re trying to.
CLAUDE: Hang it all, I’m not making a scene!
GRACE: I beg your pardon, I forgot that only women make scenes.
CLAUDE [not unamiably]: I don’t think you ought to make fun of my mother, Grace.
GRACE: I wouldn’t if I could make anything else of her.
MISS HALL: I suppose you don’t read prayers on Sunday night?
GRACE: No, we read our pedigree instead. You’ll find the “Landed Gentry” in your bedroom.
MRS INSOLEY [icily]: In my young days it was thought more important for a young lady to be well-born than to be clever.
GRACE [chuckling]: The result has been disastrous for the present generation.
GRACE: I’ve often thought that if the Archangel Gabriel came down in Somersetshire, they’d look him out in the “Landed Gentry” before they asked him to a shooting-party.
MISS HALL: I don’t think I want anything, thank you, Mrs. Insoley.
MRS INSOLEY: Nonsense, Louisa! Allow me to know what is good for you. You’ll see that she drinks the port, Claude.
MRS INSOLEY: Of course Louisa will find everything she wants. She wants nothing. Come, Louisa.
MRS INSOLEY: I went for a walk in the village this morning and nobody took any notice of me. Isn’t that so, Louisa?
MISS HALL: No, Mrs. Insoley.
MRS INSOLEY: What do you mean by no, Louisa?
MISS HALL [hastily]: I beg your pardon. I mean yes, Mrs. Insoley.
MRS INSOLEY: You’ve had no exercise to-day, Louisa. You’d better walk three times round the garden.
MISS HALL: I’m not very well to-day, Mrs. Insoley.
MRS INSOLEY: Oh, nonsense! You’re in the best of health. And you can take the dog with you.
MISS HALL: I would never dream of having a Romish maid myself.
MRS INSOLEY: Is there any likelihood of your having a maid at all, Louisa?
MISS HALL: No, Mrs. Insoley.
MRS INSOLEY: In that case I can’t quite see what is the use of your having an opinion on the subject.
MISS VERNON: You needn’t grudge us the perfectly harmless delusion that there is a difference between a family that has lived in the same place for three or four centuries, with traditions of good breeding and service to the country – and one that has no roots in the soil.
GRACE: I seem to hear Claude’s very words.
MISS VERNON [good-humouredly]: You’re the first member of your class that I’ve ever heard acknowledge it.
MISS VERNON [meditatively]: I wonder if you’d despise us so much if you had a string of drunken, fox-hunting squires behind you.
MISS VERNON: My dear, there are three good rules in life. The first is – never sin; and that’s the most sensible. The second is – if you sin, never repent; and that’s the bravest. But the third is – if you repent, never never confess; and that’s the hardest of them all.
MISS VERNON: No one knows why we’ve been brought into the world, but it evidently wasn’t for our happiness. Or if it was, the Being who put us here has made a most outrageous mess of it. Put your happiness out of the question.
MISS VERNON: My dear, it’s not for ourselves that our friends love us, but for the grace and the beauty that they’ve given us out of their own hearts. And the only way we can show them our gratitude is by doing all we can to preserve those precious illusions they have about us.
ARCHIBALD: D’you mean to say you think Grace oughtn’t to say anything?
MISS VERNON: I think it would be monstrous of her to say anything.
ARCHIBALD: If the sinner wants forgiveness, first of all he must confess his sin.
MISS VERNON: You still look upon your God as a God of vengeance, who wants sacrifices to appease Him.
ARCHIBALD: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”
MISS VERNON: That was said to a stiff-necked generation that wanted humbling. But no one can want to humble us, surely. We’re so timid already. We’re so unsure of ourselves. We’ve all got a morbid desire to unbosom ourselves. The commonest ailment of the day is a vulgar feminine passion for making scenes. Confession’s like a drug we fly to because we’ve lost the last shadow of our self-reliance.
GRACE: It’s very hard for all of us to say what we mean. The words we use are so frayed. One ought to guess at – at the soul within them.
COBBETT: I notice people always call you odiously cynical when you talk plain horse-sense to them.
COBBETT: The world would be a jolly sight easier place to live in if people weren’t such humbugs.
COBBETT [reflectively]: The fact is, only the wicked should sin.... When the virtuous do things they shouldn’t they do make such an awful hash of it.
GRACE: You have been rather a blackguard, haven’t you?
COBBETT: No. I don’t pretend to be better than anybody else, but I’m quite certain I’m no worse. I’m a perfectly normal man in good health. It’s idiotic to abuse me because I’ve done what any other fellow would have done in my place.
[1915 – 1917 – 1923]
CLAY: You Americans who live in
FLEMING: [Under his breath.] So queer of us.
CLAY: Despise the delectable habit of drinking tea because you are still partly barbarous. The hour that we spend over it is the most delightful of the day. We do not make a business of eating as at luncheon or dinner. We are at ease with ourselves. We toy with pretty cakes as an excuse for conversation. We discuss the abstract, our souls, our morals; we play delicately with the concrete, our neighbour's new bonnet or her latest lover. We drink tea because we are a highly civilised nation.
FLEMING: I must be very stupid, but I don't follow.
CLAY: My dear fellow, the degree of a nation's civilisation is marked by its disregard for the necessities of existence. You have gone so far as to waste money, but we have gone farther; we waste what is infinitely more precious, more transitory, more irreparable – we waste time.
DUCHESSE: My dear
you fill me with despair. Compton Edwardes has cut me off my tea. I thought he
was only depriving me of a luxury, now I see he's depriving me also of a
religious rite. Thornton
FLEMING: Who in heaven's name is Compton Edwardes, that he should have such influence?
FLEMING: Gracious! What does he reduce?
PEARL: I often wonder if your philanthropy isn't an elaborate pose. You don't mind my saying so, do you?
PRINCESS: [Good-humouredly.] Not at all. You have no heart, and you can't imagine that anyone else should have.
PEARL: I have plenty of heart, but it beats for people of my own class.
PRINCESS: I've only found one thing really worth doing with all this money I have, and that is to help a little those who need help.
PEARL: [With a shrug.] So long as it makes you happy.
PRINCESS: It doesn't, but it prevents me from being utterly miserable.
PRINCESS: I often wonder if you're happy, Pearl.
PEARL: Do you? Of course I'm happy.
PRINCESS: An ambassador told me the other day that you were the most powerful woman in
It's very wonderful how you've made your way. You had nothing very much to help
PRINCESS: [Smiling.] You're very frank.
PEARL: That has always been my pose.
PRINCESS: I sometimes think there's positive genius in the way you've ignored the snubs of the great.
PEARL: [With a chuckle.] You're being very unpleasant, Flora.
PRINCESS: And there's something very like heroism in the callousness with which you've dropped people after they've served your turn.
PEARL: You're driving me to the conclusion that you don't altogether approve of me.
PRINCESS: On the other hand I can't help admiring you. You've brought all the determination, insight, vigour, strength, which have made our countrymen turn
into what it is, to get what you wanted. In a way your life has been a work of
art. And what makes it more complete is that what you've aimed at is trivial,
transitory and worthless. America
FLEMING: That's what makes life so difficult. People don't seem to be good or bad as the squares of a chessboard are black or white. Even the worthless ones have got good traits, and it makes it so hard to know how to deal with them.
PRINCESS: You were going to say, how can they expect to be happy when they marry for a trumpery title? You thought, they're snobs, vulgar snobs, and the misery of their lives is the proper punishment for their ignoble desires.
FLEMING: [Very apologetically.] Princess.
PRINCESS: [Ironically.] Princess.
FLEMING: Believe me, I hadn't the smallest intention of saying anything to wound you.
PRINCESS: You haven't. It's too true. Most of us who marry foreigners are merely snobs. But I wonder if it's all our fault. We're not shown a better way of life. No one has ever hinted to us that we have any duty towards our own country. We're blamed because we marry foreigners, but columns are written about us in the papers, and are photographs are in all the magazines. Our friends are excited and envious. After all, we are human. At first, when people addressed me as Princess, I couldn't help feeling thrilled. Of course it was snobbishness.
FLEMING: You make me feel a terrible cad.
PRINCESS: But sometimes there've been other motives, too. Has it ever occurred to you that snobbishness is the spirit of romance in a reach-me-down? I was only twenty when I married Marino. I didn't see him as a fortune-hunting Dago, but as the successor of a long line of statesmen and warriors. There'd been a pope in his family, and a dozen cardinals, one of his ancestors had been painted by Titian; for centuries they'd been men of war, with power of life and death; I'd seen the great feudal castle, with its hundred rooms, where they had ruled as independent sovereigns. When Marino came and asked me to marry him it was romance that stood in his shoes and beckoned me. I thought of the palace in
, which I
had visited as a tripper, and where I might reign as mistress. I thought it was
splendid to take my place after all those great ladies, Orsinis, Colonnas,
Gaetanis, Aldobrandinis. I loved him. Rome
FLEMING: But there's no need to tell me that you could never do anything from an unworthy motive.
PRINCESS: My husband's family had been ruined by speculation. He was obliged to sell himself. He sold himself for five million dollars. And I loved him. You can imagine the rest. First he was indifferent to me, that I bored him, and at last he hated me. Oh, the humiliation I endured. When my child died I couldn't bear it any longer; I left him. I went back to
found myself a stranger. I was out of place, the life had become foreign to me;
I couldn't live at home. I settled in America ; and here we're strangers
too. I've paid very heavily for being a romantic girl. England
PRINCESS: I should have very few friends if I demanded the standard that you do. I've learned not to judge my neighbours.
FLEMING: Is it necessary to condone their vices?
PRINCESS: You don't understand. It's not entirely their fault. It's the life they lead. They've got too much money and too few responsibilities. English women in our station have duties that are part of their birthright, but we, strangers in a strange land, have nothing to do but enjoy himself.
PEARL: My dear Fleming, don't say Gee, it's so American. Say By Jove.
CLAY: My dear
surely you can trust the discretion of your guests. Who do you think will give
it away? Pearl
CLAY: I? My dear
I give you my word of honour… Pearl
CLAY: You know, there are no excuses for you,
PEARL: […] Give me your handkerchief, will you?
CLAY: [Handling it to her.] You're not going to burst into tears?
CLAY: You'll never love me,
You tell me all your secrets. Pearl
CLAY: D'you think you can bring Arthur round?
PEARL: I'm sure I could if he loved me.
CLAY: My dear, he dotes on you.
PEARL: Don't be a fool, Thornton. He loves his love for me. That's quite a different thing. I've only got one chance. He sees himself as the man of iron. I'm going to play the dear little thing racket.
PEARL: Men are very trivial, foolish creatures. They have kind hearts. But their heads. Oh dear, oh dear, it's lamentable. And they're so vain, poor dears, so vain.
PEARL: [With emotion.] I'm so fond of you, Bessie. You don't know how much I want you with me. After all, I've seen so little of you these last few years. It's been such a comfort to me to have you. You were so pretty and young and sweet, it was like a ray of April sunshine in the house.
BESSIE: I'm afraid you think women are as trivial, foolish creatures as men,
looks up and sees that Bessie is not in the least taken in by the pathetic
BESSIE: Oh, Pearl, how can you? How can you? Haven't you any sense of decency at all? When I came in just now and saw you sitting on the sofa with that gross, vulgar, sensual old man – oh! [She makes a gesture of disgust.] You can't love him. I could have understood if… but – oh, it's so disgraceful, it's so hideous. What can you see in him? Hе's nothing but rich…. [She pauses, and her face changes as a thought comes to her, and coming horrifies her.] It's not because he's rich?
PEARL: Really, Bessie, you're very silly, and I'm tired of talking to you.
BESSIE: Pearl, it's not that? Answer me. Answer me.
BESSIE: He was right, then, last night, when he called you that. He was so right that you didn't even notice it. A few hours later you're sitting hand in hand with him. A slut. That's what he called you. A slut. A slut.
PEARL: How dare you! Hold your tongue. How dare you!
BESSIE: A kept woman. That's what you are.
BESSIE: Haven't you got money of your own?
BESSIE: How humiliating!
PEARL: And, finally, I've bought you a husband.
BESSIE: That's not true. He loves me.
PRINCESS: Still, I hope Bessie won't marry any man she doesn't care for.
PEARL: My dear, don't put ideas in the child's head. The French are a much more civilised nation than we are, and they've come to the conclusion long ago that marriage is an affair of convenience rather than of sentiment. Think of the people you know who've married for love. After five years do they care for one another any more than the people who've married for money?
PRINCESS: They have the recollection.
BESSIE: […] Don't you see that we're not strong enough for the life over here? It goes to our head; we lose our bearings; we put away our own code, and we can't adopt the code of the country we come to. We drift. There's nothing for us to do but amuse ourselves, and we fall to pieces. But in
safe. And perhaps America
wants us. When we come over here we're like soldiers deserting our country in
time of war. America
[1918 – 1919 – 1922]
ARTHUR: You may learn a good deal that will surprise you. You may learn that there are races in the world that seem born to rule and races that seem born to serve; that democracy is not a panacea for all the ills of mankind, but merely one system of government like another, which hasn't had a long enough trial to make it certain whether it is desirable or not; that freedom generally means the power of the strong to oppress the weak, and that the wise statesman gives men the illusion of it but not the substance - in short, a number of things which must be very disturbing to the equilibrium of a Radical Member of Parliament.
ARTHUR: Henry is one of those men who would do very well for a job if there weren't always somebody just a little bit better applying at the same time.
ARTHUR: I have no doubt in course of time he'll become a very competent official, but he'll never be anything else. He lacks imagination, and that is just as necessary to a statesman as to a novelist. Finally he has no charm.
CHRISTINA: How can you judge? You're his uncle. You might just as well say I have no charm.
ARTHUR: You haven't. You're an admirable woman, with all the substantial virtues which make you an ornament to your sex, but you have no charm.
CHRISTINA: [With a grim smile.] I should be a fool if I expected you to pay me compliments, shouldn't I?
ARTHUR: You would at all events be a woman who is unable to learn by experience.
CHRISTINA: Besides, I don't agree with you. I think Henry has charm.
ARTHUR: Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.
CHRISTINA: Really, Arthur, it amazes me that a man in your position can be influenced by such absurd trifles. It's so unfair, when a boy has a dozen solid real virtues that you should refuse to recommend him for a job because he hasn't got in your opinion a frivolous, unsubstantial advantage like charm.
ARTHUR: Unsubstantial it may be, but frivolous it certainly isn't. Believe me, charm is the most valuable asset that any man can have. D'you think it sounds immoral to say it compensates for the lack of brains and virtue? Alas! it happens to be true. Brains may bring you to power, but charm enables you to keep it. Without charm you will never lead men.
ARHUR: [Gravely.] Has it ever struck you that flippancy is often the best way of dealing with a serious situation? Sometimes it's really too serious to be taken seriously.
ARTHUR: My dear, one either love or one doesn't. I'm afraid trying doesn't do much good.
ARTHUR: [Humorously.] You can't think how devilish hard it is not to resent the fact that somebody doesn't care for you.
ANNE: You know, Arthur, there's one compensation about the pains of love. While one's suffering from them one feels one will never get over them, but one does, and when they're gone they don't even leave a scar. One looks back and remembers one's torment and marvels that it was possible to suffer like that.
ARTHUR: To do one's duty sound a rather cold and cheerless business, but somehow in the end it does give one a queer sort of satisfaction.
ARTHUR: At all costs we must seem honest, straightforward, and without reproach. And one finds by experience that it's much less trouble to be a thing than only to seem it.
[1919 – 1921 – 1921]
C.-C.: I suppose it's difficult for the young to realise that one may be old without being a fool.
C.C.: How old are you?
C.-C.: I'm never cross with a woman under thirty.
C.-C.: She was so gay and so natural. Who would have thought that animation would turn into such frivolity, and that charming impulsiveness lead to such a ridiculous affectation.
C.-C.: There are very few of us who are strong enough to make circumstances serve us. We are the creatures of our environment. She's a silly worthless woman because she's lead a silly worthless life.
C.-C.: Tell me frankly, Kitty, don't you think people make a lot of unnecessary fuss about love?
LADY KITTY: It's the most wonderful thing in the world.
C.-C.: You're incorrigible. Do you really think it was worth sacrificing so much for?
LADY KITTY: My dear Clive, I don't mind telling you that if I had my time over again I should be unfaithful to you, but I should not leave you.
C.-C.: It's a matter of taste. I love old wine, old friends and old books, but I like young women. On their twenty-fifth birthday I give them a diamond ring and tell them they must no longer waste their youth and beauty on an old fogey like me. We have a most affecting scene, my technique on these occasions is perfect, and then I start all over again.
LADY KITTY: You're a wicked old man, Clive.
C.-C.: That's what I told you. But, by George! I'm a happy one.
C.-C.: My dear
we all hope that you have before you a distinguished political career. You
can't learn too soon that the most useful thing about a principle is that it
can always be sacrificed to expediency. Arnold
C.-C.: Nonsense! Men are romantic. A woman will always sacrifice herself if you give her the opportunity. It is her favourite form of self-indulgence.
C.-C.: I'm neither, my dear boy; I'm merely a very truthful man. But people are so unused to the truth that they're apt to mistake it for a joke or a sneer.
LADY KITTY: When we're young we think we're different from everyone else, but when we grow a little older we discover we're all very much of a muchness.
LADY KITTY: One sacrifices one's life for love and then one finds that love doesn't last. The tragedy of love isn't death or separation. One gets over them. The tragedy of love is indifference.
PORTEOUS: Do you mean to say you were going to steal my car.
TEDDIE: Not exactly. I was only going to bolshevise it, so to speak.
TEDDIE: You have very pretty blue eyes,
. I'd black first one and then the
other. And after that we'd see. Elizabeth
TEDDIE: I don't think my sort of love tends to happiness. I'm jealous. I'm not a very easy man to get on with. I'm often out of temper and irritable. I should be fed to the teeth with you sometimes, and so would you be with me. I daresay we'd fight like cat and dog, and sometimes we'd hate each other. [...] I don't offer you peace and quietness. I offer you unrest and anxiety. I don't offer you happiness. I offer you love.
PORTEOUS: My dear, I don't know that in life it matters so much what you do as what you are. No one can learn by the experience of another because no circumstances are quite the same. If we made rather a hash of things perhaps it was because we were rather trivial people. You can do anything in this world if you're prepared to take the consequences, and the consequences depend on character.
[1920 – 1920 – 1920]
MRS. LITTLEWOOD: And who is going to forgive God?
VICAR: Anyhow, you take a doctor's advice and you don't argue with him. Why? Because he's an expert, and you presume that he knows his business. Why should the science of the immortal soul be a less complicated affair than the science of the perishable body?
VICAR: Do you believe in the God in whose name you were baptised into the Church?
VICAR: That at all events is frank and honest. But aren't you a little out of date ? One of the most gratifying occurrences of recent years has been the revival of belief among thoughtful men.
JOHN: I should have thought it was a revival of rhetoric rather than of religion. I'm not enormously impressed by the cultured journalist who uses God to balance a sentence or adorn a phrase.
VICAR: But it hasn't only been among educated men. Not the least remarkable thing about the war has been the return of our brave lads at the Front to the faith which so many of us thought they had forgotten. What is your explanation of that?
JOHN: Fear with the most part. Perplexity with the rest.
VICAR: Don't you think it very rash to reject a belief that all the ablest men in the world have held since the dawn of history?
JOHN: When you're dealing with a belief, neither the number nor the ability of those who hold it makes it a certainty. Only proof can do that.
MRS. POOLE: Are you quite sure that at the bottom of your heart it's not conceit that makes you think differently from the rest of us ?
VICAR: No, my dear, let us not ascribe unworthy motives to our antagonist.
JOHN: [Smiling.] At all events, not yet.
VICAR: What makes you think that the existence of God can't be proved ?
JOHN: I suppose at this time of day people wouldn't still be proving it if proof were possible.
VICAR: My dear fellow, the fact that there is no people on the face of the earth, however barbarous and degraded, without some belief in God, is the most conclusive proof you can want.
JOHN: What of? It's conclusive proof that the desire for His existence is universal. It's not proof that the desire is fulfilled.
VICAR: I see you have the usual Rationalistic arguments at your fingers' ends. Believe me, they're old friends, and if I've answered them once I've answered them a thousand times.
JOHN: And have you ever convinced anyone who wasn't convinced before ?
VICAE: I can't make the blind to see, you know.
JOHN: I wonder that hasn't suggested to you a very obvious conclusion.
JOHN: Why, that arguments are futile. Think for a minute. You don't believe in God for any of the reasons that are given for His existence. You believe in Him because with all your heart you feel that He exists. No argument can ever touch that feeling. The heart is independent of logic and its rules.
VICAR: I daresay there's something in what you say.
JOHN: Well, it's the same with me. If you ask me why I don't believe in the existence of God I suppose I can give you a certain number of reasons, but the real one, the one that gives all the others their force, is that I feel it in my heart.
[1922 – 1922 – 1922]
DAISY (with a twinkle in her eye): Any woman of my age will tell you that seventeen and ten are twenty-two.
DAISY: Don't you think that everyone is the best judge of his own happiness?
DAISY: Do you think a woman cares twopence for a man's love when she doesn't love him?
DAISY: I know no duty. I only know love. There is no room in my soul of anything else. You say that love is like a wild beast gnawing at your entrails. My love is a liberator. It's freed me from a hateful past.
DAISY: One can forgive the good for being stupid, but when rascals are fools there's no excuse.
DAISY: It's astonishing how easy it is to resist temptations that don't tempt you.
The Constant Wife
[1926 – 1926 – 1927]
MRS CULVER: Frankness of course is the pose of the moment. It is often a very effective screen for one’s thoughts.
MRS CULVER: Of course truth is an excellent thing, but before one tells it one should be quite sure that one does so for the advantage of the person who hears it rather than for one’s own self-satisfaction.
MARTHA: Mother, Constance is a very unhappy person.
MRS CULVER: Nonsense. She eats well, sleeps well, dresses well, and she’s losing weight. No woman can be unhappy in those circumstances.
BARBARA: Aren’t you rather cynical, Mrs Culver?
MRS CULVER: I hope not. But when women are alone together I don’t see why they shouldn’t tell the truth now and then. It’s a rest from the weary round of pretending to be something that we quite well know we’re not.
MARTHA: [Stiffly.] I’m not aware that I’ve ever pretended to be anything I wasn’t.
MRS CULVER: I dare say not, my dear. But I’ve always thought you were a little stupid. You take after your poor father. Constance and I have the brains of the family.
MARTHA: Don’t forget that men were deceivers ever.
They’re like little boys, men. Sometimes of course they’re rather naughty and you have to pretend to be angry with them. They attach so much importance to such entirely unimportant things that it’s really touching. And they’re so helpless. Have you never nursed a man when he’s ill? It wrings your heart. It’s just like a dog or a horse. They haven’t got the sense to come in out of the rain, poor darlings. They have all the charming qualities that accompany general incompetence. They’re sweet and good and silly and tiresome and selfish. You can’t help liking them, they’re so ingenuous and so simple. They have no complexity or finesse. I think they’re sweet, but it’s absurd to take them seriously.
MRS CULVER: I have my own ideas about marriage. If a man neglects his wife it’s her own fault, and if he’s systematically unfaithful to her in nine cases out of ten she only has herself to blame.
No sensible woman attaches importance to an occasional slip. Time and chance are responsible for that.
MRS CULVER: I told my little friend that if her husband was unfaithful to her it was because he found other women more attractive. Why should she be angry with him for that? Her business was to be more attractive than they.
MARIE-LOUISE: But why, why? It’s not human. Why didn’t you do anything?
MARIE-LOUISE: [Thinking she understands.] Oh, I see.
MARIE-LOUISE: [Beginning to be a little put out.] I almost think you’ve been laughing at me up your sleeve all the time.
MARIE-LOUISE: My head’s going round and round.
Marie-Louise is very pretty so that my self-esteem was not offended, and so rich that it was certain John would have no reason to squander money on her to the inconvenience of myself. She is not clever enough to acquire any ascendancy over him, and so long as I kept his heart I was quite willing that she should have his senses.
Don’t you realize that we must thank our lucky stars? We are the favoured of the gods. I shall never forget those five years of exquisite happiness you gave me when I loved you, and I shall never cease to be grateful to you, not because you loved me, but because you inspired me with love. Our love never degenerated into weariness. Because we ceased loving one another at the very same moment we never had to put up with quarrels and reproaches, recriminations and all the other paraphernalia of a passion that has ceased on one side and is still alive and eager on the other. Our love was like a crossword puzzle in which we both hit upon the last word at the same moment. That is why our lives since have been so happy; that is why ours is a perfect marriage.
MARTHA: What do you mean by the modern wife?
He paid a very high price for something he couldn’t get cheaper. He no longer wants that. Why should I resent it? I know as well as anybody that desire is fleeting. It comes and goes and no man can understand why. The only thing that’s certain is that when it’s gone it’s gone forever. So long as John continues to provide for me what right have I to complain that he is unfaithful to me? He bought a toy, and if he no longer wants to play with it, why should he? He paid for it.
Like ninety-nine girls out of a hundred, when I married I looked upon it as the only easy, honourable, and lucrative calling open to me. When the average woman who has been married for fifteen years discovers her husband’s infidelity it is not her heart that is wounded but her vanity. If she had any sense, she would regard it merely as one of the necessary inconveniences of an otherwise pleasant profession.
BERNARD: I don’t agree with you.
BERNARD: But if you love me?
JOHN: Yes. I could only ascribe it to your unfathomable goodness.
You no longer desired me. How could I blame you for that? But if you didn’t desire me, what use was I to you? You’ve seen how small a share I take in providing you with the comfort of a well-ordered home.
Let us face it, I was only a parasite in your house. You had entered into legal obligations that prevented you from turning me adrift, but I owe you a debt of gratitude for never letting me see by word or gesture that I was no more than a costly and at times inconvenient ornament.
JOHN: I never looked upon you as an inconvenient ornament. And I don’t know what you mean by being a parasite. Have I ever in any way suggested that I grudged a penny that I spent on you?
JOHN: And are in you in that position now?
JOHN: It’s different for a man than for a woman.
JOHN: That never occurred to me. What I meant was that if a man’s unfaithful to his wife she’s an object of sympathy, but whereas if a woman’s unfaithful to her husband he’s merely an object of ridicule.
MRS CULVER: We all know that unchastity has no moral effect on men. They can be perfectly promiscuous and remain upright, industrious and reliable. It’s quite different with women. It ruins their character. They become untruthful and dissipated, lazy, shiftless and dishonest. That is why the experience of ten thousand years has demanded chastity in women. Because it has learnt that this virtue is the key to all others.
JOHN: If you think what they call free love is fun you’re mistaken. Believe me, it’s the most overrated amusement that was ever invented.
JOHN: I ought to know what I’m talking about, hang it all. It has all the inconveniences of marriage and none of its advantages. I assure you, my dear, the game is not worth the candle.
MRS CULVER: Are you in love with Bernard?
MRS CULVER: My dear, I only know one test. Could you use his tooth-brush?
MRS CULVER: Then you’re not in love with him.
JOHN: Does he know that I know?
JOHN: [Striding up to her, thinking quite erroneously that he sees light.] Are you doing this in order to pay me out for Marie-Louise?
JOHN: Then in Heaven’s name why do you want to go away with him?
JOHN: The operation is automatically impossible, the poor devil would get such a crick in the neck he wouldn’t know what to do.
The Sacred Flame*
[1928 – 1928 – 1928]
Haven't you noticed how often rather tactless people are? They'll stamp on your toes and then when you tuck them up out of harm's way they're so offended you feel quite miserable about it.
One has no right to ask anyone to give up his own chance of making the best he can of life.
...and my theory is that it only does people good now and then to do what they shouldn't.
People want their doctor to be like their central heating: efficient, but not obtrusive.
I always think we do best by people when we help them in the way they want to be helped rather than in the way we may think they should be helped.
You say you made him love you. Why do say that except that you love him so much? You can't persuade yourself that this miracle should have happened that he loves you, too, unless you had done it. Love is always diffident. One can never be certain of love, one can only be certain of affection.
MRS TABRET: I am afraid I shall shock you, Miss Wayland; I want to put it as delicately as I can, but it's a matter that we English have made indelicate by prudishness and hypocrisy. Stella is young, healthy and normal. Why should I imagine she has not got the instincts that I had at her age? The sexual instinct is as normal as hunger and as pressing as the desire to sleep. Why should she be deprived of its satisfaction?
NURSE [with a little shiver of disgust]: It seems to me that the modern world is obsessed by sex. Is there nothing else in it? After all, the answer is that you can't go without food and you can't go without sleep. But you can go without the satisfaction of your sexual appetites.
HARVESTER: But at what price of nervous disorders, crabbedness, and unhealthy emotions.
MRS TABRET: When Maurice's accident made it impossible for him and Stella ever to live again as man and wife I asked myself if she would be able to support so false a relationship. They had loved one another as two healthy young things love. Their love was deep and passionate, but it was rooted in sex. It might have come about with time that it would have acquired a more spiritual character, it might have been that the inevitable trials of life endured together would have given birth to an affection and a confidence in one another that might have given a new glow to the fading fires of passion. They did not have the time.
NURSE [bitterly]: No one could say that you had much trust in human nature.
MRS TABRET: I have a great deal. As much, in fact, as experience has thought me is justified. I knew that Stella's pity was infinite. [...] I knew it was so great that she mistook it for love, and I prayed that she would never find out her mistake.
NURSE: I have never been given to understand that good is only good if it's easy to do.
MRS TABRET: I don't suppose it is, but if it's difficult then I think it benefits the person who does it rather than the person it's done to. That is why it is more blessed to give than to receive.
NURSE: I don't understand you. I think what you say is odious and cynical.
MRS TABRET: Then I'm afraid you'll think what I'm going to say now even more cynical and odious. I found myself half wishing that Stella should take a lover.
NURSE: I would have gone to the stake for my belief that no unclean thought had ever entered your head. Didn't it revolt you to think that your son's wife was having an affair with a man under your own roof?
MRS TABRET: I suppose I'm not very easily revolted. I've lived too long abroad to think that my own standard of right and wrong is the only one possible. We all know nowadays that morality isn't one and the same in all countries and at all times.
But I wonder why people don't see that morality isn't the same for everyone at the same time in the same country. I'm not sure that I'd go as far as to say that there's a morality for the rich and a morality for the poor, though I'm doubtful, but I do think there's a morality for the young and a morality for the old. Perhaps we should all look upon these matters very differently if our moral rules hadn't been made by persons who had forgotten the passion and the high spirits of youth. Do you think it so very wicked if two young things surrender to the instincts that nature has planted in them?
NURSE: Did the probable result never occur to you?
MRS TABRET: A baby? It persuades me of Stella's essential innocence. If she'd been a loose or abandoned woman she would have known how to avoid such an incident.
MRS TABRET: [...] I know that when people talk of a good woman they mean a chaste one, but isn't that a very narrow view of goodness? Chastity is a very excellent thing, but it isn't the whole of virtue. There's kindness and courage and consideration for others. I'm not sure if there isn't also humour and common sense.
MRS TABRET: [...] Yes, I resisted, but because I know the anguish it was, I feel I have the right to forgive those who were less virtuous, or perhaps only more courageous, than I.
NURSE: It is only by overcoming temptation that we strengthen our souls.
MRS TABRET: Perhaps. But I've sometimes noticed that our most spectacular victories are over temptations that don't really tempt us very much. When I consider human nature and temptation I can't help thinking of a river and its banks. So long as too much water doesn't flow down between them the banks do their work very well, but let a flood come and they're useless. The river overflows and havoc follows.
STELLA: Oh, my dear, you're so kind and so wise.
MRS TABRET: No, darling, I'm only so old.
LICONDA: In the course of my career I've had to do with a lot of crime. To me one of the shattering things about it has been to notice that the most law-abiding and decent person may be driven to commit one. They are very few of us who can say that we shall certainly never do so. Sometimes crime seems to come to a man as accidentally as a chimney pot may fall on his head when he's walking down the street.
What do we any of us live for but our illusions and what can we ask of others but that they should allow us to keep them?
*The title comes from the opening stanza of the poem Love (1799) by Coleridge:
All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.
For Services Rendered
[1932 – 1932 – 1932]
LOIS: Have you ever really quite got used to him?
ETHEL (defiantly): I don’t know what you mean?
LOIS: Well, he’s common, isn’t he?
ETHEL: (smiling): Are you quite sure you and I are any great shakes?
LOIS: At all events we do talk the King’s English. We have decent table manners and we wash.
ETHEL: I don’t believe you’d wash much if you had to get up at six and milk the cows. All that’s convention. One oughtn’t to let oneself be upset by things like that.
LOIS: But aren’t you?
ETHEL: Sometimes. I blame myself.
I know that we were the dupes of the incompetent fools who ruled the nations. I know that we were sacrificed to their vanity, their greed, and their stupidity. And the worst of it is that as far as I can tell they haven’t learnt a thing. They’re just as vain, they’re just as greedy, they’re just as stupid as they ever were. They muddle on, muddle on, and one of these days they’ll muddle us all into another war. When that happens I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going out into the streets and cry: ‘Look at me, don’t be a lot of damned fools; it’s all bunk what they’re saying to you, about honour and patriotism and glory. Bunk, bunk, bunk.’
[Howard:]Who cares if it is bunk? I had the time of my life in the war. No responsibility and plenty of money. More than I’d ever had before or ever since. All the girls you wanted and all the whiskey. Excitement. A roughish time in the trenches, but a grand lark afterwards. I tell you it was a bitter day for me when they signed the armistice. What have I got now? Just the same old thing day after day, working my guts out to keep body and soul together. The very day war is declared I join up and the sooner the better, if you ask me. That’s the life for me. By God!
[1932 – 1933 – 1933]
DEATH: There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to
and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the
servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse
could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he
saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a
threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? This was not a
threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished
to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him to-night in Samarra . Samarra